Let us consider a simple truth: Mega Man X4 was the culmination of three iterations on the Mega Man X formula. And Mega Man X itself was the culmination of the many adventures of baby, regular Mega Man. With this in mind, it is appropriate to recognize Mega Man X4 the pinnacle of the Mega Man X franchise, and, by association, an all-time high point for the thirty year old franchise as a whole. In short, Mega Man X4 is the peak of the Mega Man X formula.
And then there was Mega Man X5. Mega Man X5 was originally intended as the final Mega Man X chapter, so it would have been appropriate for that title to be the crowning achievement. It wasn’t. It had… issues. What were they? Well, they were all simple variations on the typical Mega Man formula, and every single one of them turned out for the worse. They may have seemed like good ideas at the time, but to get this pity party started, Mega Man never needed…
Ducking is boring
For years (decades!) people complained about dear Rock Man’s inability to duck. Every other platforming hero could do it! What’s wrong with the Blue Bomber!? No, that silly slide doesn’t count! Sure, that cuts a few inches off the vertical real estate, but it’s not a substitute for good ol’ ducking and sitting. We want to see those bullets sail right over Mega’s helmet, not ping right into the metal chump’s face!
And Mega Man X5 finally introduced ducking for our dear X (and any robotic heterosexual life mates that may be around, too). And, while a great many of us rejoiced at this news, it did not work as well in practice as we had expected. It turns out the gameplay that was never built for ducking just plain wasn’t built for ducking. Whether by a fault of the current designers, or as in an effort to maintain the action of the previously established titles, the Mavericks of Mega Man X5 did not find fun ways to accommodate ducking. By and large, the number one place you’d find ducking in Mega Man X5 is against bosses that require crouching to avoid a certain attack… and then all you’re doing is… ducking. Ducking is boring! It’s just sitting there! It’s much more dynamic when Mega has to dash or slide to avoid an oncoming barrage, and ducking simply encourages doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. It doesn’t have a place in giant robot fighting! We were wrong to ask for ducking!
And you know what else we were wrong for asking for?
Switching characters doesn’t work
Mega Man X4 was the first Mega Man X game to allow the player to choose Mega Man X or Zero for venturing through the entire adventure (X3 made Zero a playable character, but he was limited to about three total rooms before inevitably exploding). This was a godsend… but it came with the unfortunate caveat that you were tied to your chosen hero for the entire adventure. Within the opening seconds of Mega Man X4, you chose your fate, and if you made the “wrong” choice, you’d have to start everything over all over again. Granted, Mega Man X4 wasn’t the longest game in the world (even by Playstation 1 standards), but it was still rather annoying that wanting to use the X-Buster against Cyber Peacock would mean you’d never even see Zero.
Mega Man X5 rectified this mistake, and X and Zero were freely selectable at any time. You want to switch between the two super buds every other level? Feel free! …. Actually, maybe you should do exactly that, because if you don’t, you’re going to be screwed come the final areas…
Not all Replopids are created equal, and, unfortunately, X & Zero live in a meritocracy. As per Mega Man X tradition, permanent powerups can be collected across levels. Regrettably, the majority of these powerups do not apply to both Maverick Hunters. And, given a number of those powerups can only be accessed by individual heroes wearing specific armor or using specific abilities, it is very easy to “unbalance” the hunter duo. In the end, you might wind up with an X that possesses 7 health upgrades, and a Zero that can barely survive a stiff breeze. And, while this might be thematically relevant for the series, it is something else entirely for being able to “freely” switch between characters. If X is going to have five times the health of Zero, then why ever choose Zero? There’s no choice at all when one choice is a walk in the park, and the other is attempting to survive instant death.
And this pairs horribly with…
Bosses have levels (and that’s awful)
It seems there was an attempt to mitigate the “separate powerups” issue… but it went horribly wrong.
Each and every Maverick “boss” has the potential to impart additional items upon defeat. Depending on the level of the boss, you could receive absolutely nothing, or something amazing, like a weapon powerup coupled with a health increase. But how do boss levels work? Apparently they are tied to defeating other Mavericks and your own hunter’s rank, so the longer you take before tackling a stage, the stronger its boss will become. This all seems well and good until you get to the sad, sad way that levels are implemented with bosses: it only increases their health. It does not change their attack patterns, add extra attacks, nor increase the damage dealt. It simply turns average Mega Man bosses into damage sponges of Yiazmattian proportions.
And you better believe that makes the final boss rematch area an absolute waste of a Maverick Hunter’s time and energy.
This would be passable if the Mavericks gained new moves at different health levels, or switched “stances”, or… something! But, no, it’s just the same fight, but much longer. What’s more, we’re looking at a Mega Man 7/X situation where the best weapon for the job often activates some kind of special animation or reaction, so things take even longer. Nobody wants to stand around and wait for Dark Dizzy to get flying again! There’s a T-Rex I have to deal with in the next room!
Then again, there’s a strong chance I won’t get to the next room, because…
Modular Armor is unpleasant
In Mega Man X4, you had the choice of obtaining one of two weapon powerups. Much like X3’s “choose your golden powerup” system, this gave the player a marginal choice in steering X’s development. It may have been a teeny tiny choice, but it was a choice all the same, and I’m sure there are some people that swear by one arm powerup over the other. After all, there are always going to be people that pick something other than plasma/are wrong.
X5 decided to run with that concept, and presented not one, not two, but three completely different armors for X. X could utilize the “fourth” armor from X4 (complete with plasma attack, natch), the highly mobile Falcon Armor, or the… well… whatever was happening with the Gaea Armor. The Gaea Armor seems like it was intended to be the “strong” armor to Falcon’s “fast” armor, but its abilities are all over the place. You can stick to the walls like Spider-Man! You can push blocks with a dash! You’re invulnerable to spikes!(!!!) The only drawback is that you can’t use special weapons, and you can’t air dash. That’s fine, right? No big deal! It’s not like entire levels are based around possessing either the air dash, double jump, or special weapons to make it through areas. It’s not like equipping the Gaea Armor will make certain areas almost completely unwinnable.
Oh? It does do that? And you can’t unequip an armor if it isn’t working out for a level? Oh. Well, that’s not very well-thought-out.
And that’s Mega Man X5 in a nutshell. Mega Man X4 was an excellent culmination of everything in the franchise, and Mega Man X5 decided to toss a lot of failed experiments into the mix. Later games would go on to perfect some of these decisions (Mega Man X8 is particularly good for character switching, and Mega Man Zero offered variety in boss fights), but, as a game that was intended as the finale of the X series, X5 falls far behind its predecessor.
Mega Man X4 might be the best in the franchise. Mega Man X5 veered too far off that path to be the best.
FGC #448 Mega Man X4 & Mega Man X5
- System: Playstation initially, and then ported to everything that could support it through various compilations and digital releases. Including, but not limited to: every Sony platform, Gamecube, Xbox, Switch, and probably the N-Gage at some point.
- Number of players: X and Zero may only be controlled by one player.
- Other issues: Oh yeah, Mega Man X5 introduced Alia, who constantly interrupts the gameplay to provide important information like “shoot things” or “duck under boiling lava”. She’s largely a pest in this adventure, but I can’t fault the game too much for trying to be more inclusive for the kiddies that might need a little extra help. It was only the fifth game in the series, it’s not like there was any precedent for how to play the thing…
- Further Issues: My bad, Mega Man X4 can’t be the best in the series, as it, like its descendants, has an annoying vehicle stage. But Mega Man X5 did introduce the concept of having to collect a bunch of stupid doodads on an instant death track, so it is still somehow worse.
- Favorite Maverick (X4): Storm Owl. Say it with me now: Storm Owwwwwl.
- Favorite Maverick (X5): I appreciate that Mattrex is a weapons dealer before the virus drives him mad. When you’re an enormous, flaming dinosaur living in a volcano, there are only so many vocations open to you.
- Did you know? I am required by law to note that the original names for the Mavericks of Mega Man X5 were all Guns ‘n Roses references, and they were suggested by the localizer’s wife. I should also note that all these names were dropped for the most recent X compilations, so Axel the Red is forever lost to time. More’s the pity.
- Would I play again: Both of ‘em are a solid yes. Mega Man X5 may have made some poor choices, but it’s still a mega game. And X4 is exactly the kind of thing we’re all fighting for.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Cave Story! Oh boy! Caves! Please look forward to it!